As well as finishing my degree yesterday, after seven years, I also got some good news in relation to my health. Under the guidance of the Head of Nutrition at The Optimum Health Clinic, a specialist M.E. clinic that I attended two years ago, I undertook a test on my small intestine. Having M.E. is unusual in that you want test results to come back positive because M.E. is diagnosed as a result of a lack of any positive diagnosis. In other words nothing looks medically wrong with you and yet you’re extremely ill.
This time my test came back positive! Very positive in fact, for a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This condition is where bacteria which normally reside in your large intestine have overgrown into the small intestine instead. It is often caused by stomach viruses and food poisoning, which is how my M.E. symptoms started. The condition damage the microvilli which results in malabsorption of nutrients and toxins leaking into the blood stream, which causes M.E. type symptoms of fatigue, pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, nutrient deficiencies, skin problems and digestive problems.
The good news is that this condition is treatable with diet and supplementation. My nutritionist says that she’s confident I’ll start to feel much better within the next month or two which is very exciting. The condition may be eradicated completely and I’ll be able to go back to a normal diet but it may reoccur so I might have to moderate my diet if the symptoms come back. For the first six weeks my diet will be very restrictive, cutting out all carbohydrates and fermentable foods which the bacteria like to digest before I can! So I basically be eating like a caveman and living on meat, fish, nuts, seeds and vegetables. Bone broth will also be a very important part of the treatment in order to repair the lining of the small intestine. After the initial six weeks I’ll be able to add in more things like rice, quinoa, lentils and some fruits.
Taking on a very restrictive diet is always a worry for me because of my history of eating disorders. I am concerned about losing weight and getting obsessive but I have the support of my nutritionist and my counsellor if I start to have any problems. I haven’t had any eating disordered thoughts for a good few months so I am feeling more confident that I’d be able to tackle any issues that arise. Whilst it will be a boring couple of months on this diet, when you’ve been ill for over a decade you’re ready to do anything that might help. My nutritionist also informed me that in her work with people with anorexia she has found that the majority of them have a digestive problem like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which has been an important factor in their illness. Why would you eat if you get pain and bloating every time you do? SIBO is a relatively new condition and it is now believed to account for 70% of IBS symptoms. Problems with the gut have also been proven to cause mental health problems, due to malabsorption of important nutrients and toxins in the bloodstream.
Tonight I will eat my last piece of chocolates and then spend the summer fixing my tummy with this new diet, whilst removing all stresses and just doing things that make me feel good. When I came home at the end of March I said I’d give myself six months, until my birthday, to really rest and recover. A fortnight ago I had begun to think that recovery would be impossible, certainly by September, but with this new diagnosis and my improved mental health I’m confident that I’ll be ready to take on the next stage of my life come my 27th birthday. With a first-class degree to boot 😉